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CATON-THOMPSON, Gertrude (1888-1985)

Identity Statement

Reference code(s): GB 0402 GCT
Held at: Royal Geographical Society
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Full title: CATON-THOMPSON, Gertrude (1888-1985)
Date(s): 1935-1985
Level of description: Collection level
Extent: 2 boxes with 5 files
Name of creator(s): Thompson | Gertrude Caton- | 1888-1985 | anthropologist and egyptologist x Caton-Thompson | Gertrude


Administrative/Biographical history:

Gertrude Caton-Thompson was born in London on 1 February 1888; educated privately and at the Links School, Eastbourne; employed by the Ministry of Shipping and promoted to a senior secretarial post in which she attended the Paris peace conference, 1917. She declined a permanent appointment in the civil service, and in 1921, aged thirty-three and with none of the usual qualifications, began archaeological studies under the Egyptologist Flinders Petrie at University College, London, joining his excavations at Abydos in Upper Egypt that winter. Caton-Thompson spent the next year at Newnham College; returned to Egypt in 1924 and joined Petrie and Guy Brunton at Qau el Kibir. While they concentrated their excavations on predynastic cemeteries she had concluded, well ahead of her time, that settlement sites would be more informative, embarking on her own excavations on the site of a predynastic village at Hamamiyyah, she made the first discovery of remains of the very early Badarian civilization.

In 1925 Caton-Thompson travelled to north-western Egypt and the desert margins of Lake El Faiym, accompanied by the Oxford geologist Elinor Gardner, to assist in an attempt to correlate lake levels with archaeological stratification discovering two unknown neolithic cultures which proved later to be related to the Khartoum neolithic. In 1929 Caton-Thompson received an invitation from the British Association for the Advancement of Science to investigate the great monumental ruins at Zimbabwe in southern Africa; confirmed the conclusion reached by David Randall-MacIver in 1905 that they belonged to an indigenous African culture and were not, as widely believed, of oriental origin and was also able to date the ruins back to the eighth or ninth century AD and to produce evidence of Zimbabwe's links with Indian Ocean trade.

Caton-Thompson's last excavations, in 1937, were at al-Huraydah in the Hadhramaut, southern Arabia, where she excavated the Moon Temple and tombs of the fifth and fourth centuries BC. They were the first scientific excavations in southern Arabia. Caton-Thompson retired from fieldwork after the World War Two and from her home in Cambridge pursued her research activities and visited excavations in east Africa. In 1961, she became a founding member of the British School of History and Archaeology in East Africa (later the British Institute in Eastern Africa), served on its council for ten years, and was later elected an honorary member. She received an honorary fellowship of Newnham College, Cambridge, and an honorary LittD (1954); Fellow of Royal Geographical Society 1934-1939; Fellow of the British Academy in 1944 and a Fellow of University College, London. She died on 18 April 1985.


Scope and content/abstract:

Papers of Gertrude Caton-Thompson, 1935-1985, comprise artwork including preliminary drawings of maps, an offprint of an article 'Lake Moeris, re-investigations and some comments' by G Caton Thompson, E W Gardner and S A Huzayyin from Bulletin de l'Institut d'Egypte, T. XIX, 1936-1937 and photocopy of article 'Recent geological work in the Faiyun...' by O H Little from Bulletin de l'Institut d'Egypte, T. XVIII 1935-1936; aerial photo taken autumn 1938 by US pilot prospecting for oil, showing drainage pattern on edge of high plateau between Mukalla and Wadi Hadhramaut; Watercolour by Edith Hughes of the Fayum depression and preliminary drawing of map/sections of Wadi 'Amd at Hureidha, prepared for plate LXXII in the book Tombs and Moon Temple of Hureidha published in 1944.

Access & Use

Language/scripts of material:

System of arrangement:

Arranged as set out in Scope and Content.

Conditions governing access:

Accessed via the Foyle Reading Room. Free of charge for Fellows, Members and those with valid academic identification. All other users pay a charge and must bring identification in order to register on arrival.

Conditions governing reproduction:

Photocopying at the discretion of the Archivist, and subject to completion of 'application for copies' form. No reproduction or publication without permission of the RGS-IBG Archivist.

Finding aids:

RGS Archives index cards and detailed catalogue online at Access to Archives.

Archival Information

Archival history:

Immediate source of acquisition:


Allied Materials

Related material:

RGS Correspondence blocks: 1921-1930. 1931-1940, 1941-1950.

Publication note:

Description Notes

Archivist's note:
Sources: Oxford Dictionary of National Biography.
Prepared by an archives volunteer using existing finding aids and edited by Samantha Velumyl, AIM25 cataloguer.

Rules or conventions:
Compiled in compliance with General International Standard Archival Description, ISAD(G), second edition, 2000; National Council on Archives Rules for the Construction of Personal, Place and Corporate Names, 1997.

Date(s) of descriptions:
15 February 2001 and May 2008.

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